Overcoming a Binge Eating Disorder
Too much of a good thing is dangerous.
by Jeannie Moore
Do you find yourself eating until you are out of control or almost sick? Or keeping secret stashes of food, such as chocolate, chips, or cookies? Does your family nag you about how much you are eating? Does food seem to bring comfort when you are lonely, bored, or stressed?
If the answer is yes to most of these questions, then you might be suffering from a binge eating disorder.
According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, “Binge eating disorder probably affects 2 percent of all adults, or about 1 million to 2 million Americans. Binge eating disorder is more common in women, with three women affected for every two men.”
You don’t have to live in defeat any longer. Here is a summary of characteristics and causes of binge eating and what you can do about it — or what you can do to help someone else.
- eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short time (within any two-hour period)
- lack of control over eating during the binge episode (i.e., the feeling that one cannot stop eating — similar to an alcoholic who can’t stop drinking after one drink)
- eating until uncomfortably full
- eating large amounts of food, even when not physically hungry
- eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food eaten
- feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating
Though binge eating is probably the most common eating disorder, its cause is unknown. Many binge eaters suffer with depression and low self-esteem. Does depression cause the binge eating, or does binge eating cause depression? No one knows. Many people report that anger, loneliness, anxiety, boredom, or other negative emotions trigger their binge eating. Good food seems to comfort them.
There are several unanswered questions about binge eating. Researchers are looking into how brain chemicals and other metabolisms affect the body.
The major complications of binge eating are the same as those with obesity: diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, heart disease, high cholesterol, and some types of cancer. Social problems can also result. Some people do not like to eat out because of their bingeing or may not want to attend a business function that involves food. Their self-esteem may already be weak, and their obesity makes them feel worse.
Most feel ashamed of their appearance and try to hide their problems. Often they are so successful that family members and friends don’t know about their binge eating.
Several types of treatment are available for binge eaters. Sometimes using a combination of these works best.
Self-help groups offer a source of support. It helps just knowing there are others suffering from the same disorder.
Medications such as depressants may be helpful for some people. Cognitive-behavior therapy teaches ways to monitor food intake and ways to handle stress. Family counseling assists the binge eater in learning to deal with stressful issues related to the family. Counseling helps family members to support the binge eater and understand the problems in binge eating.
Ways to help
Perhaps you’re not a binge eater, but you know someone who is. Here’s how you can help.
- Gently encourage her to eat properly.
- Express your love and support.
- Take time to listen.
- Help her to find someone to support her who knows what she is going through.
- Encourage her to accept support and to honestly express her feelings.
- Pray for her recovery.
Binge eating can be controlled through medication, diet, and exercise. However, the key is recognizing the problem. Once you know you’re not alone in the struggle to control binge eating, it does get easier. Sometimes it is finding what will work for you and following your own plan.
Reach out for help, seek God’s plan for your life, and share with others your need for encouragement. Then see what God will do!
De Zwaan MD, Mitchell J. E. “Binge Eating in the Obese.” Annals of Medicine. Vol. 24, pp. 303-308, 1992. This review article is written for health professionals. It describes previous studies of binge eating in obese individuals and how they differ from obese people who do not eat.
Grilo C. M. “The Assessment and Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder.” Journal of Practical and Behavioral Health, 1998: Vol. 4, pp. 191-201. An article focusing on the assessment and treatment of binge eating disorder.
Fairburn C. G. Overcoming Binge Eating. New York: Guilford Press, 1995. A book discussing how bingeing is different from overeating.